The winners of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry are Moungi Bawendi, Louis E Brus, and Alexey Ekimov for their discovery and synthesis of quantum dots. The prize is worth 11 million Swedish kronor (around US$1 million at time of publishing), which will be shared equally among the three winners.
Quantum dots are nanoparticles; a tiny crystal that contains just a few thousand atoms where the quantum effects start to come into view. Quite literally in such a case. A standard way to show them is to put them in colloidal solutions where they shine in different colors. These different colors are due to the size of the quantum dots and how tightly packed the electrons are in the dots. Smaller particles emit in shorter wavelengths and so forth, going from shorter wavelength to longer, blue to red.
Despite being constructed by the same material, their size is what changes their properties. Not just the color they emit, but also their electrical and thermal properties, and even the melting point. These quantum dots have properties that are in between the semiconductors that are used in electronics and discrete atoms or molecules.
There are plenty of applications for these materials that can be tuned by changing their sizes. Intriguing applications include being used in certain photovoltaic devices, to absorb solar energy, and even as dyes in biology for visualizing the vascularization of a tumor.
"I don't know what the future holds," Moungi Bawendi said when asked during the press conference about applications of the quantum dots. "It is an exciting area of research."